Couple's lucky escape as truck plunges into river

A COUPLE had a lucky escape when a driver plunged into the River Thames just metres from where they were walking. Richard and Niki Schafer were walking their dog along the foopath in Thames Side, Henley, when a Ford pick-up clipped a lamp post behind them before going past and then smashing through some cast iron bollards and veering into the river in front of them. Mr Schafer, 49, of Walton Avenue, immediately jumped in to help the driver.

Fortunately, the water near the Hobbs of Henley moorings, where the vehicle ended up, was shallow and Mr Schafer was able to help the man from the vehicle. Both were then pulled back up by staff from Hobbs who took the driver into their office in Station Road and gave him a change of clothes and a hot drink. The man was not hurt.

Mr Schafer, a chief financial officer, and his wife, an interior designer, were walking along the road towards Mill Meadows with JJ, a dachshund, when the incident happened at about 10.20am on Thursday last week. He said: “We heard this loud bang and turned around and saw that the pick-up’s wing mirror had knocked against the lamp post and come off. “A split second later it passed us and it then began to veer.

We were surprised that it wasn’t coming back on to the road as that’s what you’d expect but actually it was moving towards the bollards. “If we had been 2m ahead of where we were it would have been a different situation for all of us. “It was the bang that made us stop and look around and those two or three seconds meant we weren’t 2m further on.

“The truck seemed to hit the bollards and flip at a 45 degree angle with the bonnet facing the water and then it just seemed to accelerate and the bollards gave way. “The moment that it went over I just shouted ‘call the police’ and jumped in. My initial thought was, ‘Oh s***, the car is going to go under water, I need to move fast’.

“Three or four guys came out of the Hobbs office shouting, ‘Don’t worry, it’s shallow’. I then thought, ‘I’m in the water now, I’m going to help the guy out’. “I went to the driver’s door and opened it.

The chap inside was clearly in shock and quite bewildered. “What I did think at the time was, ‘Is the car going to tilt and has the guy had a heart attack or some kind of medical incident?’ I was relieved that he was at least conscious. “I helped him out and over to the wall and the guys from Hobbs pulled him out.

They then pulled me out and then the shock of the coldness of the Thames hit me and my legs were just frozen. They gave Niki and me a lift back home. “If this had happened the week before, when the flooding was occurring, this guy would have been underwater and the water would have been between my chest and neck.

“While it was clear it was unfortunate, I think there were lots of fortuitous elements to it, to say the least. “I’m glad the guy’s safe — that’s priority number one. I’m pleased I was able to help out.

I’m sure what I did is no different to what anybody else would have done.” Firefighters from Oxford cordoned off part of the pavement, which was strewn with debris and police arranged for the recovery of the pick-up. Kim Clifford, general manager of Hobbs, was in the company’s office when the incident happened.

He said: “I heard a screech and a loud bang and looked out of the window and there was a truck veering into the river. “We ran out and called for some other members of staff to come. We normally have diesel self-drive boats moored here.”

Sam Kennedy was in his flat in Station Road when he heard a loud bang and watched the drama unfold from his balcony. “It was just crazy,” he said. “Until probably two or three days ago the water was much higher. That would have made it harder to get him out.”

The bollards were installed only a year ago by Oxfordshire County Council. Councillor Stefan Gawrysiak, Henley’s representative on the council, said he would organise for them to be replaced. “I assume it will be paid for by the driver’s insurance,” he said.

The stretch of pavement near the junction with Friday Street was previously separated from the road by small metal posts linked by a chain but these were removed in 2015 after being repeatedly knocked over by vehicles. Former mayor Pam Phillips raised the issue of pedestrian safety with the town council, saying she was concerned that lives were being put at risk. She said that vehicles parked on the stretch of pavement where the bollards had been were so close to the river that it forced people in wheelchairs or with prams to walk in the road.

The council agreed to buy 24 bollards at a cost of GBP9,089.